Albums

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Pop - Released June 21, 2010 | Nonesuch

Booklet Distinctions Stereophile: Record To Die For
We haven't heard from Laurie Anderson in eight years -- since her Live at Town Hall NYC recording, cut two weeks after September 11, 2001 -- but that doesn't mean she hasn't been busy. Homeland began as a series of ideas recorded on the road in which she simply sang songs and told various stories about America. Some of them ended up as a concert poem about America that was a logical extension of her United States I-IV project -- and a non-didactic indictment of the Bush administration. The live recordings were combined with basic studio tracks, ending in 25 songs. She eventually ended up with the daunting task of sorting through, editing, and engineering a million audio files. Husband Lou Reed lent fresh ears when they were most needed; he is listed as a co-producer, as is longtime associate Roma Baran. Homeland features appearances from a stellar cast including Tuvan throat singers and igil players of Chirgilchin along with a number of experimental jazz and rock players, including Rob Burger, Omar Hakim, Reed, John Zorn, Kieran Hebden, Shahzad Ismaily, Eyvind Kang, Joey Baron, Peter Scherer, Skuli Sverrisson, Ben Wittman, and Antony Hegarty. Its songs -- whether spoken or sung -- are profoundly musical rather than simply conceptual. They ask questions about what it means to be an American in the 21st century, philosophically and personally, by way of references as diverse as Thomas Paine, Søren Kierkegaard, Aristophanes, and Oprah Winfrey -- and Anderson's wonderful sense of irony. While there isn't a single cut in this dozen that doesn't bear repeated listening, certain ones stand out. The trilogy that begins with "My Right Eye" and continues through "Thinking of You" and "Strange Perfumes" consists of nocturnal, low-key songs haunted by the beauty of Anderson's violin and voice with help from various singers, Kang's viola, Scherer's keyboards, and Burger's various instruments, including accordion. Hegarty assists on the last of these, lending it an ethereal quality. All are lyrical and haunting. "Only an Expert," driven by Hebden's keyboards and Reed's distorted guitar, is a scathing indictment of the rise of focus groups and the nebulous talking heads on television who analyze everything about modern life. The album's true hinge piece, "Another Day in America," employs Anderson's longtime male alter ego Fenway Bergamot. Zorn's bleating alto saxophone adds weight, dimension, and shock value to the lovely "Bodies in Motion." He also appears on "The Beginning of Memory," a song that relates the narrative allegory of a play from Aristophanes. Homeland is literally the most accessible Anderson recording since 1982's Big Science and easily stands among her masterworks. ~ Thom Jurek
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Pop - Released January 1, 2009 | Capitol Records

Distinctions Stereophile: Record To Die For
Released on the heels of the stilted, static Cahoots, the double-album Rock of Ages occupies a curious yet important place in Band history. Recorded at a spectacular New Years Eve 1971 gig, the show and album were intended to be a farewell of sorts before the Band took an extended break in 1972, but it turned out to be a last hurrah in many different ways, closing the chapter on the first stage of their career, when they were among the biggest and most important rock & roll bands. That sense of importance had started to creep into their music, turning their studio albums after The Band into self-conscious affairs, and even the wildly acclaimed first two albums seemed to float out of time, existing in a sphere of their own and never having the kick of a rock & roll band. Rock of Ages has that kick in spades, and it captures that road warrior side of the band that was yet unheard on record. Since this band -- or more accurately its leader, Robbie Robertson -- was acutely aware of image and myth, this record didn't merely capture an everyday gig, it captured a spectacular, in retrospect almost a dry run for the legendary Last Waltz. New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint was hired to write horn charts and conduct them, helping to open up the familiar tunes, which in turn helped turn this music into a warm, loose, big-hearted party. And that's what's so splendid about Rock of Ages: sure, the tightness of the Band as a performing unit is on display, but there's also a wild, rowdy heart pumping away in the backbeat of this music, something that the otherwise superb studio albums do not have. Simply put, this is a joy to hear, which may have been especially true after the dour, messy Cahoots, but even stripped of that context Rock of Ages has a spirit quite unlike any other Band album. Indeed, it could be argued that it captured the spirit of the Band at the time in a way none of their other albums do. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released January 1, 2009 | Capitol Records

Distinctions Stereophile: Record To Die For
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Pop - Released September 15, 1995 | Warner Bros.

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Stereophile: Record To Die For
Uncle Tupelo ended in volleys of bitter acrimony between founding members Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, and as most of Uncle Tupelo's final lineup joined Tweedy to form Wilco, Farrar set out to assemble a new band that suited his specifications. Teaming with UT's original drummer Mike Heidorn, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Dave Boquist, and bassist (and Dave's brother) Jim Boquist, Farrar's new group Son Volt started with the deep, resonant sound of his work with Uncle Tupelo and moved it several steps further, and the band's debut album, 1995's Trace, ultimately displayed his talent to better advantage than any album he made before or since. Sequenced to highlight the dynamic push and pull between fierce rockers like "Route" and "Drown," full of Farrar's Neil Young-styled electric guitar, and quieter and more thoughtful numbers like "Tear-Stained Eye" and "Windfall," Trace honored both sides of Farrar's musical personality, and the muscular but unpretentious attack of his backing band was made to order for these songs. And the mixed themes of freedom, disappointment, and betrayal that punctuate Farrar's lyrics clearly reflected his state of mind as he walked away from one band and into another. One could reasonably describe Trace as Jay Farrar's version of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, a watershed work where the artist occasionally looks to an unsatisfying past as he sets out on a bracing new adventure, and like All Things Must Pass it was a triumph that Farrar would never quite repeat as he created a body of work that was satisfying but never balanced songs, performances, and mood with the easy perfection he achieved here. However, when Trace appeared in 1995, it was hard not to believe Farrar had broken up Uncle Tupelo for all the right reasons, and it's still a powerful, beautifully crafted, and deeply moving set of songs. ~ Mark Deming
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Pop - Released January 1, 1999 | Capitol Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - The Qobuz Standard - Stereophile: Record To Die For
Once Nat King Cole gave up playing piano on a regular basis and instead focused on a series of easy listening vocal albums, jazz fans longed for him to return to his first love. These 1956 studio sessions made up Cole's last jazz-oriented disc, where he played piano and sang on every number, joined by several guest soloists. Cole's vocals are impeccable and swinging, while his piano alternates between providing subdued backgrounds and light solos that don't reveal his true potential on the instrument. Willie Smith's smooth alto sax buoys the singer in the brisk take of "Just You, Just Me." Harry "Sweets" Edison's muted trumpet complements the leader in his interpretation of "Sweet Lorraine." Composer Juan Tizol's valve trombone and former Cole sideman Jack Costanzo's bongos add just the right touch to the brisk take of "Caravan." Stuff Smith's humorous, unusually understated violin is a nice touch in "When I Grow Too Old to Dream." It's hard for any Nat King Cole fan to ignore these important sessions. [The original version of this release featured a dozen tracks, later expanded to 17 in the '80s with the discovery of some unreleased material. Yet another track, the alternate take of "You're Looking at Me," was also found and added to reissues beginning in the late '90s.] ~ Ken Dryden
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Pop - Released January 1, 1972 | Geffen*

Distinctions Stereophile: Record To Die For
Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were remarkable craftsmen from the start, as Steely Dan's debut, Can't Buy a Thrill, illustrates. Each song is tightly constructed, with interlocking chords and gracefully interwoven melodies, buoyed by clever, cryptic lyrics. All of these are hallmarks of Steely Dan's signature sound, but what is most remarkable about the record is the way it differs from their later albums. Of course, one of the most notable differences is the presence of vocalist David Palmer, a professional blue-eyed soul vocalist who oversings the handful of tracks where he takes the lead. Palmer's very presence signals the one major flaw with the album -- in an attempt to appeal to a wide audience, Becker and Fagen tempered their wildest impulses with mainstream pop techniques. Consequently, there are very few of the jazz flourishes that came to distinguish their albums -- the breakthrough single, "Do It Again," does work an impressively tight Latin jazz beat, and "Reelin' in the Years" has jazzy guitar solos and harmonies -- and the production is overly polished, conforming to all the conventions of early-'70s radio. Of course, that gives these decidedly twisted songs a subversive edge, but compositionally, these aren't as innovative as their later work. Even so, the best moments ("Dirty Work," "Kings," "Midnight Cruiser," "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again") are wonderful pop songs that subvert traditional conventions and more than foreshadow the paths Steely Dan would later take. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released January 1, 1966 | Geffen*

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Stereophile: Record To Die For

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